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Series / Brainiac: Science Abuse

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"Is looking at a woman's breasts for thirty minutes the equivalent of a thirty-minute workout?"
Richard Hammond, Brainiac: Science Abuse

Brainiac: Science Abuse is a British television series, originally presented by Richard Hammond and then by Vic Reeves, assisted by Jon Tickle (a former Big Brother housemate) and an army of nameless "Brainiacs", used as human guinea-pigs. The series ran from 2003 to 2008.

Ostensibly a "we make science fun" programme, it generally displays about as much scientific rigor as a dried kumquat, preferring instead to come up with a series of excuses for showing cool stuff, usually with a little bit of scientific explanation of why the stuff is cool in that way.

It took the part of MythBusters where stuff went boom and ran with it. There is generally no attempt made at producing scalable, repeatable experiments to actually determine a result — it's more along the lines of "Wahey, if you do this you can make it go bang! This works because there's a sudden release of energy."


Just occasionally, something genuinely interesting slips through, though, and one Brainiac skit was shown on QI - they filled a swimming pool with custard (a non-newtonian fluid) and had Jon Tickle run up and down on it, to the childlike glee of Hammond.

Original presenter Richard Hammond is a well-known car nut and presenter of Top Gear, and as such has something of a dislike of the caravans that clog Britain's roads every bank holiday. The show therefore made something of a specialty of destroying caravans in the most explosive way possible.

Beginning from the fifth season, he quit the show, with Vic Reeves taking over. The new host brought around some minor changes (for one, deliberately acting as a guy who has no clue whatsoever, unlike Hammond), but the premise didn't change.


Notable "experiments":

  • Running on custard.
  • Can you smell fear? A vertiginous Brainiac is given a terrifying ride in a cherry picker, while another runs laps to get hot and sweaty and a third relaxes as a control. A female brainiac correctly identifies the frightened Brainiac by smell.
  • Alkali metals (more specifically, lithium through caesium) in a bath tub - this experiment gained infamy in the example that it was quite rapidly disproven and revealed to have been faked! Keep an eye out for the ridiculously-visible detonator wire during the supposedly-explosive reaction of caesium.note 
  • Thermite - can it actually burn through anything?
  • Do you weigh 1/4 lb more after eating a quarter-pounder?
  • What happens when you attach carbon dioxide fire extinguishers to various wheeled devices and try to race them? Much hilarity. The shopping trolley goes round in circles, the skateboard departs without its rider and the wheelchair is best. Best not to ask about the rollerskates.
  • Swimming in syrup. Jon Tickle thought he'd go faster because the viscosity of the syrup would generate more force, while Richard thought the greater resistance caused by same would slow Jon up. Richard turned out to be right-he even gleefully noted that Jon, in his exhaustion, had started cutting across the middle of the pool and still couldn't beat his time from the water-filled pool.
  • Brainiac VS Beast: the perhaps most abused Brainiac competes against (other) animals in various fields. Usually ends up losing and going feral.
  • Stuff NASA never tried. Hilarious "experiments" with rockets.
  • Things but veeeeery slooooow: a segment in which the Brainiacs do random stuff, but in slow-motion.
  • Photos magnified X amount of times and pulled back to reveal the object.
  • X vs Y: Where opposite adjectives are made to compete with each other (like fat vs. skinny)

This TV series contains examples of:

  • Butt-Monkey: Dr. Bunhead, who is described as "science's biggest loser" and suffers in some manner at the end of his regular segments ("Pub Science," "Service Station Science" and "On the Pull").
    • Also the many nameless Brainiacs, whose status as perpetual guinea pigs earns them nothing but disrespect.
  • Catchphrase
    • "Do not try this at home really, don't."
    • Later changed to "Do not try this at home ...or anywhere else, for that matter!"
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: There is a segment called "How hard is your thing?".
  • Fanservice: People get half-naked a lot. And Prof. Myang-Li conducts all of her experiments wearing a bikini. No subtlety at all in her segments.
  • Lovely Assistant: Professor Myang Li, who determines "Does this fruit float?" You do doubt her academic credentials given her Stripperiffic outfit.
  • Microwave Misuse: Done once per episode with a wide variety of objects. Due to the often explosive results of these experiments, there were multiple Do Not Try This at Home warnings both before and after.
  • Running Gag
    • Richard Hammond's hatred of caravans, and the frequent explodification of same.
    • Also, Prof. Myang-Li testing whether various fruits sink in a swimming pool.
  • Spinoff: Brainiac: History Abuse. The same concept, but with different hosts and historical stuff replacing science.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Especially caravans, but also just about everything else.
  • Toilet Humor: One experiment at a random home shows why antacids like Alka Seltzer tablets make people fart.
  • We Need a Distraction: Vic Reeves when he tried to distract a brainiac to steal beer cans - "Look! The sun!"